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Post Modernism Art: Definition, Theory & Characteristics

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  • 0:03 Postmodern Art
  • 1:17 Context & Theory
  • 3:15 Types
  • 4:15 Materials
  • 4:48 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Stephanie Przybylek

Stephanie has taught studio art and art history classes to audiences of all ages. She holds a master's degree in Art History.

How can something come after modernity? What does that even mean? In this lesson, you'll learn about postmodern art, including the theory behind it and some of its approaches and characteristics.

Postmodern Art

Have you ever wanted to do something different from those around you? For example, if everyone likes a certain pop song, do you purposely not listen to it? In the late 1950s art world, young artists looked around at what their older contemporaries were doing and decided to take a different approach. Their work became known as postmodern art.

The term postmodern art refers to a group of movements that began in the late 1950s and early 1960s, during which artists rejected established practices and questioned the importance of their roles in the artistic process. The term originated with a philosopher around 1979. Postmodern artists use familiar images from consumer and pop culture and mass media to confront or question art and society. Their work has an irreverent, almost mocking view, of artistic importance.

Postmodern artists include minorities and women who weren't previously part of the art establishment. For example, Claes Oldenburg transformed familiar objects, like apple cores and hamburgers, into giant soft sculptures. They also include photographer Cindy Sherman, who places herself in scenarios that comment upon the roles forced upon women in society.

Context & Theory

To understand postmodern art, let's use the definition of modern art to explain the difference between the two. The term modern art is used to define art created from the end of the 19th century through the 1950s. Modern art challenged the academic art of its time and championed ideas like the importance of the artist and originality. Modern artists wrestled with ideas and emotions apart from average everyday people and the world around them. By the 1950s, modern art was so wrapped up in its own ideas, narrative, and importance, that it was difficult to understand. After two World Wars and the dawn of the nuclear age, the 1950s and 1960s were also a time of dramatic historical change. Younger artists questioning established ideas about modern art saw it mostly in a negative context, both in terms of its imagery and who was making it - white males under the influence of Western art.

Just like modern art up-ended the traditional art of its time, early postmodern art did the same thing to modern art. The finished products were less important and more open-ended, allowing audiences to reach their own conclusions. Postmodern art movements reject the artist as special, someone who stands apart from society. It's less personal and expressive, and finds its inspiration in everyday images and objects, including consumer goods. In general, postmodern makes less of a distinction between high and low art and questions originality. The viewer is as important as the artist, rather than excluded from the process by virtue of not understanding the imagery.

Postmodern art is less personal. In fact, you could consider it almost impersonal. You don't look at a painting, a print, or a sculpture and get a sense of the artist at work. But, keep in mind that not all of contemporary art is postmodern art. Some of today's portrait and landscape painters and other artists explore ideas reminiscent of modern art.

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